HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.—After two consecutive quick exits from the NCAA tournament, a commanding first-round win against Johns Hopkins appeared to give the Blue Devils the juice to advance to next week's Final Four in Boston.
Instead, Duke ran into a freight train in the form of No. 3 seed Ohio State in the quarterfinals, falling 16-11 at Shuart Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University. The Blue Devils had held four straight opponents to eight or fewer goals, but allowed their highest scoring output of the season Saturday afternoon.
“They didn't really change up their motion too much,” Duke goalkeeper Danny Fowler said. “We lost individual battles, including me, including the defensemen—things that we haven't really done all year.”
The Blue Devils (13-5) kept things close for one quarter, getting an unassisted goal from junior Justin Guterding to even the score at one more than 10 minutes into the contest. But Buckeye redshirt freshman Lukas Buckley gave his team the lead for good with a goal in the closing seconds of the period.
From that point forward, Ohio State's faceoff unit combined with outstanding goalie play from Tom Carey to stymie Duke.
Senior Jake Withers—who entered the game with the third-highest faceoff win percentage in the nation—went 8-of-11 from the faceoff X in the period and powered a seven-goal second quarter for his team. As Withers dominated the draw, Eric Fannell scored his second and third goals and Johnny Pearson, Tre Leclaire, Freddy Freibott and Austin Shanks all added their own names to the scoresheet.
With Withers helping the Buckeyes control possession, the Blue Devils managed just four goals in the first half.
“It's something [Withers] has been doing all year,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “He's a 60 percent guy, and it's something we told our team. He's one of their best players. I thought Kyle [Rowe] battled and did a nice job... they made plays, and in these games, kids have to make plays.
The second quarter was also when the wheels appeared to come off for the Blue Devils' vaunted defense. Duke entered the game allowing fewer than nine goals per contest, but gave up 11 scores across the second and third quarters.
The Buckeyes (15-3) were able to win individual matchups, with Fannell in particular appearing too strong and sharp for whatever the Blue Devil defense threw at him. The senior attackman finished with five goals and two assists, getting clean looks on several shots with Fowler left out to dry in the goal.
Although sophomores Brad Smith, Sean Lowrie and John Prendergast all padded the scoreline for the Blue Devils early, Danowski’s squad retreated to the locker room down 9-4.
And Duke did not fare much better in the second half, either. The Blue Devils struck first in the third quarter, as Jack Bruckner snagged a pass from Brad Smith and finished on the crease, but Carey was simply too strong. The Ohio State goalkeeper had 14 saves in the game, including diving stops and clutch kick saves to help the Buckeyes maintain a comfortable cushion throughout the second half.
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On the other side of the field, Ohio State got four straight goals, as Jack Jasinski went unassisted to push the lead back to five before Fannell and Buckley effectively finished the Blue Devils off, putting the Buckeyes in front 13-5 after 45 minutes of play.
Duke loosened up and was able to run in transition a little more in the midfield in the fourth quarter, but could not manufacture a run for the ages. The Blue Devils added goals from Bruckner, Guterding, Sean Cerrone and Mitch Russell, but not enough to make Ohio State sweat, as the Big Ten conference co-champions ran out the clock for an emphatic win.
“They're a tough team and we picked a bad day to have a bad day,” Guterding said. “They just out-toughed us.”
It was the second time in three years the Buckeyes eliminated Duke 16-11 in the NCAA tournament, though many of the Blue Devils' primary contributors this year were not on the team that lost in the first round two years ago. Duke will return almost its entire defensive unit from a young team, losing just Brian Dunne and Fowler, and will welcome back 10 of its top 11 point-scorers next season.